A New Web News Presentation That Looks Old

By: Steve Outing

Newspaper Web sites typically don't look like their printed counterparts. Some might carry over some of the look and feel of the print product, but many other newspaper sites consciously try NOT to look like their printed parents beyond perhaps the newspaper logo.

Now comes a new product for newspapers that allows a publisher to copy the exact look and feel of the newspaper in the electronic environment -- whether it be on the World Wide Web or digitally delivering the publication behind a corporate firewall.

New York based Infosis Corp. has developed a new system that takes a replica of a printed newspaper page and puts it online as a navigation device for the online user. To get an idea of how the system looks to the Web viewer, see the Web site of the London Evening Standard, which is using the Infosis system to reproduce some of its print pages on the Web. The Standard, London's only evening newspaper, publishes its lead news, sports and business pages on the Web this way. (In fact, it uses the system to publish this way for its four editions per day.)

Digital paper navigation

>From the printed page replica (a bitmap image of the actual page), the user can click on a story, headline, photo or ad, and in a frame next to the page will appear the text, full-size photo, or a Web-enhanced version of the printed ad. The system uses the printed-page metaphor for the viewer to read the site. As you read particular stories, the printed page image stays in the other frame. You can navigate around the "newspaper" by clicking on other stories on the bitmapped page, or click on page numbers to "turn the page." It's truly an electronic replacement for having the dead-tree edition in your hands. (With the exception that only selected pages of the paper are published online, and not all paper page elements are active online yet.)

Infosis, whose headquarters were moved to New York from England in order to be closer to the American high technology investment community, is just beginning to gear up to recruit additional publishers. The Christian Science Monitor is about to use the system for its Web site, and Infosis also is working with the Yorkshire Post in England and Lloyd's List, a daily publication covering the maritime insurance industry.

CEO Chris Mellor says that what's most significant about the system is that it automates the process of getting a newspaper's core news product online, leaving new media staffs the time to focus on other aspects on the paper's Web site. He claims that the system can get 24 printed pages online in print replica format in about 15 minutes, making updates through the day as news breaks feasible. A single staff member at a newspaper should be able to do the job, he says.

Publishers send their page elements to Infosis' servers in England via the Internet, as well as a digital (bitmapped) version of the page, and everything is parsed into a database before the system goes to work matching print page placements with the actual elements of the page. Participating publishers will need to be producing their pages using digital pagination systems, so that they can be interpreted by Infosis. (The London Evening Standard, for example, uses DTI software for its page creation.)

Mellor says another significant element of the system is the revenue model that it supports. Instead of just selling Web banner ads, he says, the newspaper ad sales representatives can sell print advertisers enhanced add-on ads for the paper's Web site -- thus introducing a new revenue stream to newspaper Web sites. (When a print advertiser does not choose for a Web add-on, the ad will not be a live link on the Web print page replica.)

As an example of such an ad, a print ad for Cable & Wireless in the U.K. shows a picture of the earth with text blocks and arrows pointing to different parts of the globe. When the Web user clicks on the C&W ad on the printed page replica, in the other frame on the PC screen appears an animated version of the same ad. In the Web animation, the text blocks appear in sequence and different spots on the globe are highlighted. The Web ad maintains the design integrity of the print ad. Other print ads when clicked bring up entirely different "inside" ads that do not look like the print presentation. And the system also allows for the inclusion in the Web page layout for traditional Web banner ads.

Infosis is working with ad agencies to convert newspaper print ads to a Web-friendly form, but is not in the business of creating ads, Mellor says. Rather, Infosis staff add interactive elements to a print ad but do not change content.

Automation = cost savings

Mellor claims that his company's system for automatically getting print pages and their contents online is far cheaper than the manual processes that many newspapers use to repurpose print news on the Web. He declined to quote a cost, but says the company is open to various revenue structures -- from straight licensing and set-up fees to advertising revenue share arrangements.

A shortcoming of the system is that headlines on the print page replicas aren't always readable, unless you have a large computer monitor -- thus, looking at a print page on screen you may not know what a story is about. Mellor says a fix for that is in the works, the solution being a Javascript application that would magnify an element of the page as your cursor passed over it.

This is, no doubt, an interesting technology, especially if you want to maintain your existing print branding in the online marketplace. It can be argued, as Mellor does, that maintaining the look and feel of the printed page and adapting it to the online medium will help traditional newspaper readers feel more comfortable. This doesn't look like some new, untrusted medium, he says; it's your trusted newspaper minus the paper.

On the other hand, the Web IS an entirely new medium, and it can be argued equally forcefully that replicating the print medium digitally is not desirable. You wouldn't broadcast newspaper pages on television, so why would you do it on the Web, the argument goes. Each publisher will have to make that decision now that there is available a technological solution to replicating the newspaper online.

Filder's vision come to life?

Lastly, I should point out that the Infosis system of presenting a printed page in mirror form and making the elements into hypertext links (for which Infosis holds a U.S. patent) is similar to the vision of Roger Fidler, formerly of Knight-Ridder's now-defunct Information Design Laboratory. In Fidler's work for K-R, he proposed a portable flat-panel display that would serve as "digital paper" for reading newspapers and magazines. In his prototypes, the pages of his newspaper of the future looked much like a printed newspaper page. (Fidler is now a professor at Kent State University in Ohio, where he continues to develop his flat-panel news device vision.)

Contact: Chris Mellor, chrism@pressconnect.com


HotWired "Packet" columnist Brooke Shelby Biggs, writing about the excessive hype over "push" technologies:

"My copy of Eudora is the first application I launch in the morning, and the last I close at night. If there ever was a killer app in the history of publishing technology, e-mail is it."


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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